3 Eczema Guilty Pleasures I’m Embracing in 2023

Three neutral-colored sweaters folded and stacked.

By Sarah Harris

Published On: Feb 6, 2023

Last Updated On: Feb 6, 2023

If you have eczema, it can feel like there are a lot of rules to follow: what to eat, what to wear, what to touch or smell. How — and how often — to bathe. While these lifestyle suggestions are mostly helpful, following them to the letter can be onerous. Our constant skin-math calculus — Will this Chapstick give me hives? Can I pet my friend’s dog? Should I bring my own sheets to the hotel? — can sometimes extinguish life’s small joys. 

I spent two decades following all the eczema rules and another decade breaking them. Now, my skin-math calculus is weighted heavily towards happiness. As I stare down another long Vermont winter, I’m not starting a 30-day challenge or adopting a new regimen. Instead, I’m thinking about what rules I can bend — what my skin will let me get away with.

You may think this sounds foolhardy. Didn’t I just come out of a big flare? Aren’t I trying to take better care of myself? Yes and yes. But taking care also means feeling good. Winter is long, life is short and living well with eczema does not require extreme deprivation. That’s why this winter there are three things I’m doing my way.

1. Taking hot showers 

Apologies to my skin barrier and dermatologists everywhere: I, Sarah Harris, love a hot shower. I love how the water hits the drum-tight muscles on my shoulders. I love how the air heavies with condensation, fogging up my bathroom mirror. I love that taking a shower can help me clear my mind and wash everything away. Lukewarm water might be fine for bathing, but it’s not built for catharsis. Like weak coffee, it simply does not do the job.

Rest assured that I don’t ignore the eczema shower rules altogether. My soaps and shampoos are fragrance-free. I pat, and don’t rub, myself dry. I also don’t do hot tubs or saunas — they’re too aggravating for me. But if they’re your thing, I don’t begrudge you. Hot water is amazing. 

2. Eating what I want

In the quest to figure out what’s driving our eczema, we often turn to food. Certain foods must be culprits, others surely offer salvation.

I spent years cutting gluten and dairy, doing raw food cleanses, sprouting mung beans and choking down their earthy offshoots and going vegetarian. It often felt like there were more things I couldn’t eat than things I could. But I never found a magic bullet, and my eczema did not go away.

It turns out that getting the right nutrition for skin health is a lot more complex than I realized. I’d been laser-focused on cutting things out — a practice that can sometimes make our skin worse and create an unhealthy relationship with food.

These days, I’m doing my best to turn away from food faddism and diet culture, to opt for foods that are nourishing, and to eat with awareness and joy instead of judgment, fear or shame. If you need support around food or gut issues, consider working with a registered dietician or clinical nutritionist.

3. Wearing wool

I’m allergic to a lot of things, but astonishingly wool isn’t one of them. It’s not clear why — maybe there are some serious shepherdess genes in my DNA? — but it certainly makes it easier to bundle up against a cold Vermont winter. I also just love wool: how it’s shorn and carded, spun and dyed, wound into balls, stitched into clothes. On a dark, winter evening, you’re likely to find me knitting a hat or a cowl.

Recently, my eczema flared so badly I couldn’t even knit. My hands were too fissured, too flaky and greasy, too sore. I felt cheated: eczema robbed me of a hobby I loved. Thankfully my skin is now in a better place. I’m knitting again, and I’m wearing my favorite wool sweaters. But don’t worry, I’m not living too dangerously — I have a cotton layer underneath.

Don’t let eczema stop you from living 

It’s tempting to try and freeze out eczema with austerity: to prune away each trigger, purge every contaminant, vacuum every mite. But what happens if you prune so far that there’s nothing left? Hot showers, delicious meals, wearing a sweater you love — these are the daily pleasures that propel us through a long winter, that feed a full and comfortable life. So as you make your skin-math calculus, take your comfort and joy into account. I’m rooting for you, your skin and your spirit — whatever they all need to thrive.

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